Music

Sons of Zion

Herman Dune: Kanye West's Puppet Entourage

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For French pop duo Herman Dune, the biggest break has come in puppet form. Their puppeted likenesses—originally designed by the band themselves for their "1-2-3/Apple Tree" video—guest starred alongside a puppet Kanye West in his cuddly, Olympics-themed video for Graduation's "Champion." But, alas, there is no "Kanye bump" in units sold when you're assembled from felt and gluesticks, and as Lamb Chop (the hand-puppet, not the band) can attest, there's more to life than fame attained through puppetry.

The history of Herman Dune—the skin-and-bones version—is this: Their discography is a loose assemblage of five official albums, along with countless CD-R recordings. They were formerly a trio but are now a duo; all members use Herman Dune as a surname (à la the Ramones); they once had an umlaut in their name; and the late John Peel was their biggest fan. Much like seemingly every tale involving the saintly Peel, it was the DJ's golden touch that plucked the band from promo bin obscurity and guided them to their current position atop the anti-folk heap.

"John Peel was everything for us when we first started," explains singer/guitarist David-Ivar Herman Dune from his Toronto hotel room. "He picked up our 7-inch, the first one, started playing it on the radio, and invited us for a Peel Session." It turned out to be one of many, and the band eventually rolled tape on a staggering double-digit collection of Peel Sessions throughout the years, along the way forging a close friendship with music's most respected tastemaker.

The years that followed Peel's death found the band—the aforementioned David-Ivar and drummer/percussionist Neman Herman Dune—releasing a slew of recordings seldom heard outside of Paris or their adopted home on New York's Lower East Side. Alongside the likes of pal Jeffrey Lewis and the Juno-approved Kimya Dawson, Herman Dune carved out a niche for penning playful—nearly childlike—love songs that rely on simplistic structure and David-Ivar's wounded vocal delivery. He is more Jonathan Richman than the original Modern Lover has been in years, a lovestruck troubadour with the keen ability to reel off miles of material from the austere pains of a wounded heart.

It's only on their latest, the ambitious Next Year in Zion, that the music of Herman Dune has been widely discovered stateside, thanks to new label Everloving (home to Cornelius, and—gasp—the original barefooted stomping grounds of bromeister Jack Johnson). "On a Saturday" has a syrupy sweet hook and whimsical structure—right down to the polite blasts of horns—that come together like a pair of lovers' interlocked hands. David-Ivar's gift for penning lyrics that skirt the fine line between clever and pretentious might explain the band's not-so-surprisingly youthful following. Kids—yes, literally little humans in single-digit age groups—love Herman Dune. And while the band's off-the-charts adorability might flirt with the murky mire that is children's music, this is definitely not the soundtrack of Raffists. (What? Isn't that what Raffi fans are called?) Herman Dune might be steeped in whimsy, but this is music for adults.

Well, sort of.

"I recently played a show for kids, in the afternoon before our show," explains David-Ivar. "I thought it was going to be small, but 200 kids showed up and I noticed that their attention span doesn't last a long time. They love the rhymes; it's not really about the topics, because most of my songs are love songs, so when you are five or six, that's not really up your alley."

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